Texas A&M University | Rwanda Trip

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Along with the Zam Zam volunteers, the newest addition to our team, Texas A&M University students joined us on this momentous trip to Rwanda. We are honored to welcome Kathryn, Monica, Erica, and Naveen and the Texas A&M Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department-Water Energy Food Nexus Initiative. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Rabi Mohtar and Mary Schweitzer. Zam Zam has partnered with Texas A&M in an effort to conduct research and help design a more efficient and sustainable irrigation/filtration system in Rwanda.

Top left: Kathryn Bickley, Monica Zuniga, Erica Ryan, & Naveen Memon

Top left: Kathryn Bickley, Monica Zuniga, Erica Ryan, & Naveen Memon

Through the research they have conducted, we will have more information and alternative solutions to maintain an irrigation and potable water system for our school and community gardens located in the villages we serve in Bugesera, Rwanda. The project is ongoing as they continue to compile their research, the projected outcomes will be as follows: 

Project Deliverables

  • Design and produce schematics for a potable water system and irrigation system for a small crop field
  • Develop a plan for irrigation maintenance and timing of crop field
  • Develop a plan for maintenance of the potable water system
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It was our absolute pleasure to have Texas A&M a part of this journey, Kathryn, Monica, Erica, and Naveen are great assets to our team. We are grateful to be able to benefit from their knowledge and expertise. Their presence enriched our experience in Rwanda. We look forward to our future projects with the Aggies and to see the impact they will have on the villages in Rwanda. Without a doubt, they have already made an impact on our team and the people of Rwanda.

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Thank you Aggies, Gig’em!

God's Home - Experiences From Rwanda By Omar Kohgadai

Not too long ago, the Zam Zam team took a trip to Rwanda - a country where your support has helped us build 6 water projects and a school. The purpose was twofold: first, to grow as individuals by meeting to the people that we serve and secondly, to bring back content that forges a connection between the people that we serve and our donors. As a member of the Creative team, it was my undertaking to bridge this gap. I was tasked with responsibility of capturing not just our projects but stories from the people. Stories from a different country that the rest of the world needed to hear.

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On our first day there we visited an old church that is now a historical genocide site. The story is that a large crowd of Tutsis sought refuge inside the church, all to be crossed by their Reverend, who informed the Hutu authorities to come and ransack the church. I walked in and immediately felt the presence of not just death but sheer savagery. The clothing of the victims were intentionally left there as a reminder. Not to mention the countless caskets and skulls that bore visible machete ruptures. As I walked out, emotionally taxed and regretful of what I allowed myself to see, I could hear the soothing sounds of children playing. There was a kindergarten school adjacent to the church and the kids all raced to high-five Yusuf. It was the starkest of contrasts. A polarizing interplay of life and death. Joy and pain. Past and future. Proof that, no matter what occurs, life goes on and runs its course. The cycle seizes for none. Ultimately, no tragedy can ever outrace time.

In the picture above you’ll see a former perpetrator from the genocide (left) next to a victim (right). Believe it or not, these two individuals are now friends. They even take turns watching each other's children. After the Genocide, Rwanda launched an unprecedented reconciliation initiative where the perpetrators were to make amends and gradually be reestablished into the fold of society. The level of forgiveness displayed by the Rwandan victims is beyond comprehension. It’s almost hard to believe that the human heart is capable of such unparalleled mercy. We are too familiar with the evil capacities of the heart. Turn on the news and you’ll see a story that will make you lose hope in all of mankind. Rwandans have exposed us to the other end of the heart spectrum. At that moment I thought about all the grudges I have held with people. They had never felt more trivial. The genocide has been reconciled, however, Rwanda does not bury its past. They own it and will never forget even if they forgave. Even though the perpetrator has made amends and found atonement, the emotional scars of having spilt blood were still visible in his pensive facial expression and tight shoulders. Moving onto the victim - though she has pardoned, the emotional baggage of having lost both her parents in the genocide is still visible in her captivating eyes.

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I’ve always wondered how a society could mobilize thousands of people to kill mercilessly. After this trip, I found it even more puzzling as to how a society could mobilize thousands of people to pardon those very same killers. Between these two questions, we can find an answer for both. Human beings are born pure. Hate however, is a construct. Hate is the ingredient injected into peoples mind that cause them to lose all decency and humanity. If it can be taught, then it can be untaught. If it can be injected, then it can be extracted and replaced with love, which was the primary ingredient that the Rwandan government injected into the victim’s hearts when they encouraged them to pardon their perpetrators.

As a first generation Afghan American, I come from land that has also seen far too much grief. With nearly 40 years of nonstop conflict with no foreseeable end, it’s hard to for me to imagine the light at the end of the tunnel. Rwanda serves as an exemplary model for how to move forward with conflict. Their reconciliation initiative paved way for them to heal from such a devastating catastrophe. Had Afghanistan, or any other war-torn country, taken a similar approach, then perhaps the situation would have been different?

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Rwandans have turned the most insurmountable of tragedy into triumph. They’re characterized by their warmth and cheer. Every last one of them has a story, from the politician, to the village chief, to the basket weaver that you passed by on the street. Their stories are engraved on their faces. When you look in their eyes, you see their past. All of the bloodshed. The grief. The heartbreaking tribulation. Conversely, when you look at their smiles, you see their future. The optimism. The hope. Their unwavering value for life.

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When we first landed, our tour guide said, “God travels the world all day, but He always comes home to Rwanda.” Initially this quote did not resonate with me. However, as I departed back home, I looked out the airplane window into the green and hilly landscape, one final time, and it all made sense. This is His home. This is God’s home.

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Newfound Appreciation - Experiences From Rwanda By Kathryn Bickley

The opportunity to accompany the Zam Zam team to Rwanda was one of the most impactful experiences I have ever had. I left the trip with a genuine respect and admiration for the people and the country of Rwanda. Even after enduring so much hardship and tribulation, they were still some of the happiest and friendliest people I have ever met. Hearing their stories about how access to clean water had changed so many aspects of their lives, I left with a newfound appreciation for the work Zam Zam is doing and a desire to make our project as impactful as possible. I am so thankful to have been able to have been a part of this trip.

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Collective Countenance - Experiences From Rwanda By Naveen Menon

Would I be welcome? Would it be difficult to assimilate to the country’s culture? These were questions that wracked my mind as we flew to Rwanda. However, as soon as we began to explore the country with Zam Zam, I could see how wrong my preconceived notions were. Never in my travels have I experienced a culture so inviting and met a people of such genuine kindness and warmth. It was initially difficult for me to rationalize how a people that have faced and still encounter such hardships could be so joyful and compassionate. Their collective countenance has forever left a profound impact on me. The people in Rwanda are some of the most deserving people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. The dedication of Yusuf and the whole Zam Zam team was clearly displayed every minute I spent with them.

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Privilege - Experiences From Rwanda By Erica Ryan

Aside from forever changing my world view and further highlighting the privileges in my life which I all too often take for granted, there was another much deeper and more profound effect that is difficult to explain. There were moments of intense sadness juxtaposed by moments of inexplicable joy. I shed tears of both pain and laughter, and I made connections with people I hope will last a lifetime. The people of Rwanda were immensely kind, forgiving and welcoming. Zam Zam’s dedication to serving these communities by creating greater access to water is truly making a difference for these incredible people. I would definitely recommend people to get involved in any way that they can, it will truly change your life in the best way possible.

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Beaming Smiles - Experiences From Rwanda By Monica Zuniga

It’s incredibly difficult to consolidate my experiences in Rwanda into just one short paragraph. The people of Rwanda are the most original and genuine I have ever met. Despite the difficulties they have encountered, they still had bright, beaming smiles on their faces. Their positivity and forgiving demeanor have been an inspiration to me. Being able to meet these people and learn about their beautiful culture, alongside with the Zam Zam team, has been quite the honor. Zam Zam’s passion and commitment for serving the communities of Rwanda is evident through every action they take. This opportunity was absolutely amazing, and I am incredibly thankful to have been apart of it.

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Effortless Love - Experiences From Rwanda By Zarina Mujadedy

We came to Rwanda to build trust with the villages, immerse ourselves in the culture and meet the families we are serving. We were met with genuine happiness in every village. They embody true humility and dignity. To think that these families have been affected by the evils of genocide and yet they have overcome it with so much grace; it is nothing short of inspiring.  

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Zam Zam has provided them with sustainable gardens and clean water that has prevented disease and malnutrition. In return, they have forever enriched our lives by showing us compassion and love. Seeing people living the most simple life with contentment was the most incredible experience.   

Entering each village, I was overwhelmed and humbled by the kindness and love we received. Children from the village would approach us asking, “what is your name?” “how old are you?” The children would come to us with the most precious smile and hold your hand and walk around the village with you. There was a sense of comfort visiting every village, a sense of ease. I witnessed love, kindness, and sincerity in a way I had not before. What was truly remarkable was that it all felt effortless.

VILLAGE VISITS

Our first time visiting a Zam Zam water project. We have been connected through photos and videos over the years, but nothing can compare to experiencing it in person. We spent the day visiting four water projects in the Bugesera District. All of Zam Zam’s projects in Rwanda are constructed in the Bugesera District, which is where the genocide began. Many members of this community were affected by the genocide. 

The first project we went to visit was that of Jim Lossi and his family. Jim leads student groups on a trip to Rwanda to learn more about the people and the culture. In 2014, Yusuf Nessary (president, founder) was on one of these trips, it was after that visit that Zam Zam came to fruition. We are fortunate to take this trip with Jim and his family and being able to visit the project together. He has played a tremendous role in Zam Zam from the beginning, we are grateful for his kindness and generosity. 

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My excitement begins to increase as we are approaching the village, seeing the homes on the side of the road, warm and inviting smiles, children and adults excitedly waving as we pass, rows of farms near and far, the rolling green hills. We walk toward the village and we can already hear the singing. It was overwhelming to have such a warm and inviting welcome. The Rwandan people have shown us nothing but effortless love. As we entered the area of the water project, drums are playing, people dancing with the most brilliant smiles. In response we are clapping and in awe of the site. I was overcame by tears seeing a water project for the first time - I was in awe. To see the bright blue painted water project and the people that have benefited from this water and seeing the flourishing gardens was surreal. 

NAYLA 

A young girl came up to give a testimonial about the impact the water project has had on her life. Nayla, would walk 3 miles to fetch water for her family, so she was unable to attend school regularly. Since the water project, she no longer needs to travel a long distance to fetch water, instead she uses that time to attend school. Now she is top of her class, allowing her to reach her full potential in the classroom. 

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MURAMA

The second village we visited was the Murama Village. The water project and gardens were implemented this past summer in honor of Yusuf Noor and his family the village has been benefiting from this project for many months. The chief of the village and another person spoke to express their gratitude to Zam Zam. One woman said, as a result of the vegetable gardens the amount of hospital visits has decreased and due to better nutrition it has improved her eyesight. 

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RWAMACUMA

One of the most recently constructed projects, in memory of Fatima Hassuneh. Fatima, passed away earlier this year at the age of 18 in a tragic accident, she was struck by a bus as she was crossing the street. Her family and friends have dedicated these projects to their beloved Fatima. 

The water project is still under construction in Rwamacuma and they have been provided with goats. As we are driving up the road, we can see the welcoming celebrations commence. Over a hundred people were standing by the road ready to greet us all. Drums are playing, singing and dancing toward the water tank. We’re circled around as the performance continues by everyone. We then proceed to another area to hear from the village chief. The chief expressed his gratitude for implementing this project and that they are happy to have the Zam Zam team come personally visit them. He mentioned they will continue the legacy of Fatima and pray for her and her family. 

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RUHANGA

The water project is still under construction, the tank has been put in place but the village is yet to benefit from it and the gardens. They have already received goats for their village - goats are a source of milk and cheese. When the goats have offspring, they give one to a neighbor to share the benefits amongst everyone. This project is also dedicated to Fatima Hassuneh. 

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As we were leaving the village, everyone walked with us and began singing a farewell song. The song was unique to this village, the message was telling us not to leave and to return soon - indeed, we will return. 

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Rwanda has easily taken a place in our hearts, from the moment we walked out of the airport to meeting all the wonderful people in the villages. I’ve never felt more at ease than I have in Rwanda. We will be back, God-willing, to visit our second home. 

Felician

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Meet Felician. On our way to a village, we stopped by a water source used by locals and we met this villager. He works as a bricklayer, so he rides his bike 3km each way to fill up 5 jerry cans that weigh over 40 pounds. Felician lives in a village that Zam Zam has a water project in but does not to use the clean water to make bricks so he travels that distance 8 times a day to provide an income for his family.

Augustin

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Meet our translator, Augustin. A product of a Rwandan mother and a Congolese father, his childhood was plagued with interracial disputes. While living in a refugee camp in Rwanda, Augustin’s father was killed by an assassin hired by his paternal uncle. Two years later his mother passed away from lung cancer. As the eldest of four and despite these tribulations, his demeanor is coated with an unwavering level of contentment and cheer. His father once told him that a man must accept his fate or else he will be defeated by it. Instead of giving up, he and his siblings have turned tribulation into triumph by excelling in their academics. “We’re okay, we all made it” he put. 

His uncle has reached out to him, provoking him to come and “avenge his father’s death,” however his heart has no space for vengeance or hate. Not an uncommon characteristic for people in this region.

"Hope" - Experiences From Rwanda By James Losi

Many years ago, Yusuf Nessary was a student in my travel aboard program sponsored by Saint Mary’s College of California.  As he studied many topics here in Rwanda, he was the student and I was the teacher.  He was the follower and I was the leader of the class.

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Yusuf is now the founder of the Zam Zam Water Project.  A vision that began to percolate while he was a student here.  As I am sitting here in the audience, watching and participating in the ceremony that will dedicate a new elementary school in the Bugasera District, I have come to realize a dramatic and welcomed change in Yusuf.  As he presided over the dedication of the new Zam Zam Water Project school, I realized that I have become the student and Yusuf has become the teacher.  He has become the leader and I, the follower.

There is something indeed special about Yusuf, Zam Zam and the many volunteers and advocates that have embraced the vision and mission.  Yusuf, the mission of Zam Zam and the many volunteers possess an unrelenting passion for realizing the mission of Zam Zam under this unique veil of teamwork, selflessness and a never-ending sense of fun.  It is remarkable to witness.  It is even more remarkable to be able to participate and be a part of such an organization.

As I watched the school’s dedication with great pride in my heart, I tried to imagine what came before the new school that stood before me.  I also tried to imagine what was there before the new water wells were built.  The answer, fallow fields and a sense of hopelessness.  It’s not that the villagers were sad, it was just that they didn’t have a clear vision as to how their lives could possibly improve given their undeniable lack of access to clean water.

Zam Zam changed their lives today.  It provided them with their own supply of clean water along with a new elementary school.  The villagers’ reaction upon the dedication of the school and wells was stunning and inspiring.  They had a new found sense of hope and optimism.  It was at that moment when I listened to the singing and watched the many dancers, that I realize that Zam Zam is not in the water business.  It is in the “hope” business.

Today was a great day!  It has been a day that I shall never forget…

Become a part of the Zam Zam team and you too can bear witness to people driving hope was there was none.  It is also a great deal of fun.  Please come join us.